RTI: Mining official fined for sharing scanty information
Ahmedabad Mirror.com By Dilip Patel
The Gujarat Information Commission (GIC) has penalised an official of the Junagadh mining department for violating provisions of the RTI Act. In an order issued earlier this month, it has asked the public information officer of the department, A K Mule, to pay a fine of Rs 25,000 for not providing adequate details to a farmer, Gunwatsingh Vaish.
Vaish, who lives in Alidar village of Kodinar taluka, has been taking the RTI mode to draw officials' attention to illegal mining near the Gir lion sanctuary. On July 11, 2008, he filed an application with the department seeking details of limestone quarries and lease-holders in Pichva village, which is located near the protected wildlife area.
He wanted to know how many mines were operational in the area and how many mining leases the government had cancelled between January 2000 and June 2008. Vaish filed the application to underscore the fact that rampant digging had continued in the region despite a ban by the government. On May 16, 2005, the state government banned limestone mining near the periphery of Asiatic lion's last natural abode following a directive by the Supreme Court.
Vaish waited for a year, but Mule, a geologist, did not provide the information. On September 1, 2009, he filed a petition to draw GIC's attention to the delay. The commission then instructed Mule to share the requested information at the earliest.
On June 25 this year, the Alidar-based farmer finally received copies of government documents on limestone quarries and lease-holders in Pichva. However, the information was incomplete. Of the 13 mines in the area, Mule share details of only seven. This prompted Vaish to again approach the GIC, which gave the geologist 10 days to provide complete details.
Mule, however, failed to do so. He reportedly didn't even appear before the GIC. Earlier this month, the commission slapped a fine of Rs 25,000 on him under Section 20 (1) of the RTI Act. Vaish alleges Mule did not share the complete information to shield some politicians and their partners who are involved in illegal limestone mining.
'Jethava is dead, but his fight will continue'
"He has been holding the post of public information officer in the mining department for the past seven years. He has tried to delay RTI queries to protect the nexus between politicians and mining mafia," Vaish claimed. "Environmental activist Amit Jethava had filed several RTI applications, but Mule didn't respond. Jethava was killed because he raised his voice against the powerful lobby. However, I, along with others, will continue to fight for the cause."
The farmer said that illegal digging work posed a grave threat to the wild cats. "The activity also affects farming. It disrupts the process of groundwater recharging," Vaish said. Congress's Kodinar MLA, Dheersinh Barad, alleged that government authorities and mining mafia were working hand in glove.
"For the past two years, farmers and activists have been trying to press officials to clamp down on illegal mining. Some action has been taken, but a lot needs to be done," Barad said. He accused BJP MP Dinu Solanki of using his influence to protect wrongdoers. "He tells officials which quarries should be shut down and which should be allowed to flout norms,&dquo; Barad alleged.